Hearings for former HCCA executives requesting to dismiss 40 felonies of embezzlement, money laundering and election tampering returns to court
TULARE COUNTY – The case against three former hospital executives who allegedly stole more than $13 million from hospital districts in Tulare and Lone Pine, Calif. are set to begin in June.
Former Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) CEO Yorai “Benny” Benzeevi, CFO Alan Germany and counsel Bruce Greene were schedule to appear in court on April 26 for demurrer hearings, effectively a motion to dismiss the case, but those hearings where postponed. A hearing setting will take place June 2 to set a date for the actual demur hearings.
A demurrer is a plea for the judge to dismiss the complaint, not necessarily because the complaint is untrue, but because there is no legal basis for the filing. Demurrer hearings are held before a judge without a jury to determine if the complaint is on solid legal grounds. The judge alone will then decide if the complaint, or at least parts of it, must be amended before moving to the trial process beginning with an arraignment or dismissing the complaint or parts of it.
The men face a combined 40 felony and six misdemeanor charges including misappropriation of government funds, conflicts of interest, money laundering, embezzlement, theft, and failure to disclose funds intended to influence a political campaign. The intricate scheme orchestrated by the three men involved stealing medical equipment, political favors, falsifying documents and even a connection to a former Israeli private intelligence agency.
If convicted, each defendant potentially faces a significant state prison commitment. The specific amount of prison time as to each defendant varies due to the nature of the charges and California sentencing rules; however, on the most serious charge (money laundering) Benzeevi is potentially facing 13 years while Greene and Germany are each facing up to 9 years. Greene and Germany have potential maximum sentences of well over a decade should they be found guilty of all of the charges and allegations, and Benzeevi is facing in excess of four decades.
At the Feb. 17 court hearing, Benzeevi was represented by Oliver W. Wanger and Peter Michael Jones of Wanger Jones Helsley firm in Fresno, Calif. Wanger is a former U.S. District Court judge who made the top 100 list of 2019 Northern California Super Lawyers at his firm and is a former judge. Jones is a seasoned public defender who spent 25 years with the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office. While he specializes in white collar crime and litigation, Jones is best known for some of the most publicized jury trials in Fresno County history. He was lead defense counsel for Ramadan Abdullah, the mental ill man who shot and killed a Sheriff’s deputy in 2001, Dana Ewell, the man who murdered his millionaire parents and sister in 1992, and Fresno’s worst mass murder Marcus Wesson, who killed two of his daughters and seven of their children, who he fathered through years of molestation and rape, in 2004.
And those are just the warm up squad.
The Feb. 17 hearing also allowed Benzeevi to have out of state counsel come on board. The former hospital CEO has hired a defense team of national notoriety with Ronald Sullivan and Jose Baez. Sullivan is a Harvard Law professor who reached a settlement for the family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager shot and killed by a white officer, with the city of Ferguson, Mo. Brown’s killing in August 2014 set off protests and riots in Ferguson and St. Louis, and then cities across the country, which many consider to be the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Baez successfully acquitted Casey Anthony, the Orlando, Fla. woman accused of drowning her 2-year-old daughter in July 2008, after convincing a jury that her daughter drowned accidentally and then lied about the death to protect her father, who they claimed had disposed of the body, in unproven claims that he sexually abused Casey as a child.
Both men were part of the legal team that helped acquit New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in a double murder case in 2017 and more recently were part of the defense team that represented disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein who was convicted last February of raping woman in 2006 and 2013. Baez and Sullivan were part of the second team of defense attorneys Weinstein hired after parting ways with famed New York defense attorney Benjamin Brafman in early 2019 but were not part of the defense when the trial closed more than a year later. The case cost Sullivan his position at Harvard Law School after students began protesting his involvement. Harvard did not renew appointments for Sullivan or his wife, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans and their previous appointments expired in June 2019.
Greene is being represented by Jeffrey Steinfeld and David Scheper of Scheper Kim & Harris, LLP in Los Angeles. The firm specializes in white collar criminal defenses, according to its web site sheperkim.com, and has been recognized as a top white collar firm by the Chambers USA Guide.
Germany is being represented by Kevin P. Rooney of Hammerschmidt Law Corporation in Fresno. The former Tulare County deputy DA turned federal prosecutor specializes in criminal defense in both state and federal cases in California.